Clutter, in all its various forms, can create a number health and safety issues and hazards. At the extreme end of the scale are the people who hoard.

Unfortunately, because they’re too embarrassed to have anyone enter their home, people who hoard often refuse to have much-needed repair work done. As a result of deteriorating conditions inside their home, electric wiring can become faulty and create fire hazards that are fueled by the extreme clutter in the space.

Because people who hoard tend to fill up whatever space is available, they often place items on top of or too near to stoves, baseboard heaters and space heaters, increasing the potential for fires.

And not only are people who hoard at risk for perishing or severe harm due to a fire in their home, but their behavior can also endanger the lives of those living with them, their neighbors and firefighters trying to navigate through their maze of stuff during rescue efforts and efforts to extinguish the fire.

As a result of the extreme clutter of people who hoard, floorboards and plumbing lines can break or collapse under the pressure of too much weight from piles of stacked-up items and those caved-in ceilings and floors can expose the hoarder, others living in their home and neighbors – especially if the person who hoards is an apartment dweller – to the risk of being buried alive or seriously injured, to the elements or to deadly chemicals, germs or mold.

Infestations of rodents, bugs and parasites may seriously risk their health, the health of those living with them and the health of their neighbors by causing disease or even death. We covered some of the dangers of dust in a cluttered space in a recent article, so check that out as well. If your home, office, garage or shed is crammed with clutter and junk that needs to go – don’t make excuses, sort what you don’t need and get it hauled away and disposed of.

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Don’t ignore the safety and health dangers of too much clutter and hoarding

Most people are not at the extreme end of the scale for health and safety issues and hazards related to clutter and disorganization – such as those in properties where hoarding is taking place – but you might be at some level of risk if you have any of the following conditions in your home or office.

Please address these conditions and their potential risks immediately and in ways that that don’t create further hazards.

  • Clutter or furniture blocking a door or covering a floor that might make a safe exit difficult in an emergency.
  • Items stacked high and heavy/tall items like bookcases, armoires and cabinets that aren’t secured to the wall, all of which might topple over and hurt someone.
  • Heavy items like stereo systems and TV’s that aren’t secured in place and might fall on inquisitive, young children.
  • Broken or loose parts of toys and games that haven’t been properly disposed of or put away and could become a choking hazard for young children.
  • Mounds of papers, newspapers, magazines and/or clothing that could fuel a fire.
  • Overloaded electrical outlets; items with frayed or damaged electrical cords or cracked or broken plugs and electric cords running under carpeting that could overheat, all of which could cause a fire.
  • Having to walk around or step over telephone, lamp or any other types of cords or wires; inadequate lighting in rooms, hallways, stairwells and on steps; steps and handrails that aren’t in good repair; missing handrails and clutter on floors and stairways, all of which could cause someone to trip and fall.
  • Clutter piled up in a bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage or other “wet” area that might be concealing a leak, excess water or moisture and which prevents proper airflow and encourages the growth of toxic black mold or mildew.
  • Food left out that will rot and might attract rodents and insects.
  • Showers/tubs that don’t have a handrail and non-skid strips, mats or appliqués on the floor; throw rugs that aren’t attached to the floor with non-slip backing and carpet edges that aren’t fastened down securely, all of which could cause someone to slip/trip and fall.
  • Standing on a chair (which could topple over and send someone falling to the floor) to access out-of-reach items instead of using a sturdy, wide base step stool or stepladder.

In addition, storage can also present safety and health concerns in a home or office:

  • Don’t store heavy items too high up to avoid the risk of injury to someone overreaching and falling or pulling a muscle trying to access them.
  • If you keep items in cardboard boxes and the boxes and their contents get wet and aren’t properly dried out, it’s likely that mildew and/or toxic black mold will develop. Also, many rodents and insects will eat the glue that holds cardboard boxes together so don’t be surprised if you find them or their droppings inside your boxes the next time you look!
  • Household cleaning and painting supplies and chemicals should be properly labeled and stored so they aren’t accidentally mixed, creating poisonous gases, and so that young children can’t reach and possibly lethally ingest them. And don’t neglect potential poisons in your bathroom cabinets and linen closets either. Hairsprays, hair gels, mouthwashes, toothpaste and perfume can all be harmful if ingested so be sure that they’re stored well out of the reach of young children.
  • Store potential choking hazards in your kitchen like nuts, hard candy, popcorn and spices including cayenne pepper and chili powder, etc. on the top shelves of your cabinets or pantry and out of the reach of young children. Keep pantry doors locked as an added precaution.
  • Toy and linen/blanket storage chests should have slow-closing hinges so their tops won’t fall and hurt anyone’s fingers. Drill holes in the backs of them so that if a child gets trapped inside he/she will have oxygen.

Disposal of unwanted items can also create health and safety issues so please discard hazardous items properly to prevent injury to waste management and junk removal workers and to avoid harming the environment and wild animals.

When decluttering and organizing, always make health and safety your top priorities!

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